Last week, in an open air theater in the Dominican Republic, I stood up in front of most of my coworkers and several of their family members to share with them this thing that I do. My performance served as the opening act for our guest speaker, whose encouraging work regarding time, attention, and creative work has contributed greatly to my ability to tolerate sucking while I work at getting better.

I’ve been taking magic seriously for several months now and I’ve been feeling pretty good about the progress I’ve made, a couple of embarrassing moments notwithstanding. But a few months ago, I began to notice a plateau with my progress. I frequently perform one-off tricks for friends and family or the occasional unfortunate barista, but I don’t have many opportunities for longer performances. I think this was hampering my improvement.

With our annual company get-together was coming up. I realized that if I worked hard, I could have a set prepared to perform. So, that’s what I did. The set consisted of:

  • A John Carney sponge ball routine from Carneycopia
  • A torn-and-restored napkin effect from Mark Wilson’s Complete Course
  • A card trick with a magician-in-trouble plot element, modified from Royal Road
  • A copper and silver effect that led into
  • A coin vanish, revealed in an impossible location.

Video of the performance is just over fifteen minutes, and I felt really good about it. I was able to get several audience members involved, including the kids. Watching the video back, I see I missed a couple of performance nuances and I could do a better job of maintaining my status, but overall, for my first proper performance, I’m really happy.

Here are a couple of things I did that I think made my performance successful.

First, I kept the set short and manageable.1 Even with some trusted guidance, I was tempted to extend the card section of the set in a way that would have created more stress for me. I eventually came to my senses and I kept the set short and straightforward.

Second, I made sure to create a performing environment where I didn’t feel pressured or scrutinized by anyone but myself. I didn’t want to get a paying gig or busk; I wanted a safe environment for my first performance since I tend to get very nervous.

Finally, I picked my audience. Performing for a birthday party or other unpredictable situation means the magician has to pay a lot of attention to the crowd to avoid troublemakers and other such performing obstacles. Since these were all my coworkers, I already knew who to avoid, who would react well to certain effects, and who would get the most delight from the experience. I knew all of this going in and that made a huge difference in letting me focus on my performance.

I’m not sure what’s next for me in terms of performance, but I’m going to keep working at the process, learning more material and learning more about my own performing style and character because, as Merlin says,

as far as I can tell, dedication to the process can’t help but make you a better photographer — or a better whatever, for that matter.

  1. Thanks to Andrew for his gracious assistance and feedback in putting together the set.